Growing up with nationalistic songs playing on the rickety rectangular cassette player, Kashmir was not just the crown of India, it was where the head of Mother India was sat, she, resplendent and glowing in Raja Ravi Varma-esque beauty. For us Kashmir was beauty, it was bounty, it was the fount of our very Indian-ness. Because remember, the Aryan inflow was what we believed at that time – and it still may be true. It was the land of the Rishis, our thinkers and intellectuals who traveled back and forth across the nation and then to the Himalayas. We even suspect, our gods loved the cool climes of the peaks and lived amongst them. There was nothing more Indian than Kashmir, to us from the north. Raja Ranjit Singh – and the ever valorous Hari Singh Nalwa were our heroes. And their stories straddled the terrain. Their stories I say? Our stories, for we were to grow up to be as wise and brave as the best who came before us.
Even everyday life was inclusive of so many things that were so seeped in tradition that it did not matter whether they originally came from Srinagar or Amritsar, they were both equally a part of us. Our Kahwa in winters, or indeed the badaam (almonds) that are thrust by parents into the pockets of children even now to make them study better are a nod to how integrated we all still are and will remain. Just look at your shawl collection – it is incomplete without Kashmir.
I am unashamedly a child of integrated India, even as I have drifted far away. I retain the right to my emotions, I do not claim the right to judge. But I do not recuse myself from the matter at hand. No onea who cares for humanity can do so, for Kashmir has been both a deeply fortunate and unfortunate land. It lies on new terrain, unstable, as the young Himalayas shift ever so slowly and firmly. That too is the tale of Kashmir, but much more immediate and visible. To repeat it’s history is futile, to remind oneself of it’s geographical position facile. To speak of past privileges evoked and revoked puerile. To go back to a single watershed moment linked to the formation of India – fissile. There-in lies the root of the problem. We are not dealing with reason here, we are dealing with emotions. This sadly does not preclude rationality – for the venal politics that has beset the state is purely rational and has worked to the self interest of those who sought and got power. Myopic rationality, a.ka. greed has worn the state dry of much that was good, and now all that is left is empty but vicious anger. Irrational anger. Misdirected, it aims at anything it sees pointed against it. And today it can see a gun, and that gun is carried by a child of India. Can irrational anger ever see beyond the moment and reason why? We are in a land beyond reason now, and till reason returns to Kashmir, there can be no resolution.
As I call for peace, I hear my voice echo in the abyss. And the voices that are returned to me are those who deny my call. I know, I know, I tell them. You are too far gone and will not even remember what it means to have prosperity and calm in all that beauty. But it exists. The ad-hominems begin, for to call for peace is to be accused of forgiving those who hurt us. It is to be accused of being kind to those who strayed – and attacked our own. But this is the truth – that any one who is hurt in Kashmir, be it soldier or the one on the street was the hurt of an Indian mother. How can one feel the pain of one Indian mother and not the pain of the other? If both are equally Indian, you, the nationalist, must feel both equally. If you don’t, then you are the one who has pushed the ‘separatist’ into the category of the ‘other’. So much has gone wrong in our land, let us not add this ‘othering’ to our mistakes.
No one can deny that there have been mistakes made. Horrible ones. Which sensible person can condone or even accept the terrors of this beautiful land. Read what was written, the accounts of survivors. What led normal people into that frenzy of madness – we know, and we hurt with all those hurts. The lashes and the wounds are not only the ones visible and counted, the true lashes have been the smoke and mirrors games played with the ordinary people. The misdirection leaves the vulnerable even more so, while the venal play their own games. This is what hurts. When one’s own are suckers and walk away from their own prosperity and good.
You are special, because you are our own. You are not special, and suffer like all of us ordinary folk in other states, because you, like the rest of us, are our own. Your struggles are not unique, even if you want to believe so – we are all struggling to make things better. We succeed, then we fail. And when we do, we too blame the government, often rightly so, but that is the nature of nationhood. In that we all struggle at the same time, and keep trying. This is not about being ‘owned’, for nobody can own a people that vote for their own representatives. In free and fair elections. We are our own rulers if we vote and maintain law and order. This is the way we are always free, by creating safe conditions for each of us to be free to live, work and prosper. The fight for freedom belongs to each Indian, and we fight for our freedom by proving that we can handle it – and can create a peaceable local community. The fight for freedom is the fight for equity, the fight for honest hard work, the fight for knowledge not hearsay – and none of these should need guns or stones.
What does one say to a brother and sister who is crying out in pain, whether in uniform or on the streets? What does one say to one’s own – when they should know that we all hurt together. How does one send that light, that healing that can help see the truth. And the truth here is bitter, no one will want to hear it. But every injured person knows this truth – that the journey to recovery will be painful, but it can be done. At the end of the recovery, one may not be the same person one has been – but it is time to look to the future. The past has nothing to offer but painful memories. And when one has decided to recover and rebuild what is good, this is when one knows who one’s true friends are – those who reach out to take, or those who reach out to give. And today, I reach out to give the only thing I have – my sisterhood.